UK immigration policy is a constantly moving target, amid the cut and thrust of the UK’s negotiations to leave the EU.
So where are we now, and how can employers in the UK do the right thing by their EEA workers and ensure effective workforce planning whilst there is so much uncertainty?
EEA nationals and immigration policy: where are we now?
The UK government recently announced an Immigration Bill which will enable the government to end free movement of EU/EEA nationals into the UK but still allow the country to attract “the brightest and the best”.
The position of EU/EEA nationals in the UK and UK nationals in Europe is being treated as a priority issue in the negotiations for the UK’s departure from the EU. The British proposal has been set out in the opening talks but the EU has said it does not go far enough. So where are we now?
The UK’s current position:
- Until March 2019: The position of EU/EEA nationals in the UK is protected until the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.
- What about after the UK leaves in the EU? Any EU/EEA citizen with Permanent Residence having already spent at least 5 years in the UK will be unaffected by Brexit and their position will remain the same. However they will have to make an application to the immigration authorities to change their Permanent Residence to settled status under the UK Immigration Rules. The government says this process will be as streamlined as possible.
- When will the “cut off date” be for new rules to apply to EEA nationals? This is unclear: will the “settled status” rules apply to all EEA citizens who arrive up to March 2019, and who attain five years in the UK, or will there be an earlier cut-off date from which the five years will be counted?
- EEA nationals who arrive in the UK after the cut-off date may have to apply for the right to work and live in the UK under the Immigration Rules (the UK rules that currently apply to non EEA-nationals).
What does this mean for employers in the UK?
It is likely this position will change again as part of the Brexit negotiations.
Businesses in the UK which employ EEA nationals in jobs which are below degree level need to be aware that it is not possible to sponsor such workers under the UK Points Based System (akin to a work permit) and so they need to protect their workforce by helping them regularise their immigration status now.
Given the uncertainty, businesses may wish to encourage anyone from the EU or wider EEA currently in the UK to consider applying for Residence under the current rules, and Permanent Residence if they have met the rules for 5 years, to ensure greater certainty about their immigration position. Once Permanent Residence has been obtained, British Citizenship can be applied for a year later.
While such individuals may have to make further applications as immigration policy evolves, these Residence and Permanent Residence documents will be good evidence of their status, will assist in protecting their position and speeding up future applications.
How can we help?